The only thing which determines success

Robert Waldinger, fourth director of the longitudinal Harvard Study of Adult Development, asked in his TEDx Talk, “If you are going to invest in your future best self, where would you put your time and your energy?” His answer is simple: relationships. “The only thing which determined success is the quality of one’s friendships.”

There are a few things in this talk which really grabbed my attention. One of them is the ultimatum, “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier, period.” I love having a singular focus on what to improve, and I have been feeling lonely now that I’m not in the camaraderie of the lab. It definitely is something I need to attend since, as Dr. Waldinger so plainly says, “Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”

“On the days they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days they reported now physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain.” Now that I have this chemical burn on my hand, and especially now with winter rolling in causing drier and even more cracked skin, quite a bit of my day is spent in the pursuit of pain avoidance. It’s great to know there’s another avenue on which I can combat this.

“Some climbed the social ladder from the very bottom all the way to the very top, and some made the journey in the opposite direction.” I’m really keen on learning more about how those fell from the top to the bottom, and to make sure to apply those lessons in my life.

In a Harvard article, There are also some great observations about this study from the third director of the study, psychiatrist George Vaillant, such as the “six factors [which] predicted healthy aging for the Harvard men: physical activity, absence of alcohol abuse and smoking, having mature mechanisms to cope with life’s ups and downs, and enjoying both a healthy weight and a stable marriage.” The Wikipedia page for this study also has some gems, such as there being no significant difference in max income in men with an IQ of 110 vs 150.

I have become obsessed with researching happiness because I really enjoy not being crippled by depression as I was in grad school. Maybe I’m worried that one day I’ll wake up and -poof- not be able to make it out of bed again. Maybe I’m more worried my habits and actions will pass this malady on to my children, repeating this cycle for another horrible turn. I look forward to digging in deeper to some of Vaillant’s publications generated by this research, namely Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study.


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